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Jacobi enjoys his Last Tango as 'just an ordinary fella'

By Gerald Gilbert

"I'm an East End boy … you can take the boy out of Leytonstone but you can't take Leytonstone out of the boy," says Sir Derek Jacobi, gently debunking the perception that he is somehow "grand" - a view that leads to him not being uppermost in casting directors' minds when allocating parts as ordinary people in popular TV shows. After BBC1's Last Tango in Halifax, in which he plays the septuagenarian widower Alan, all that might just change. "People are surprised that I'm in Tango," he says. "Like I myself was originally, because I've got a sort of reputation for being posh and classical and costumes (sic); and to be asked to play just an ordinary fella was wonderful."

On the day we meet, Jacobi is walking for the first time in months without a stick, following a fall while holidaying in the Maldives that left him in hospital for three months. A regular visitor to Jacobi's bedside at the private King Edward VII hospital in London was his Last Tango co-star, Anne Reid, who plays Celia, Alan's former childhood sweetheart. "His room was full of roses and lilacs," says Reid. "And I said, 'I see you've been ignored again Derek'. And he said, 'Would you like a drink?', me thinking coffee or something. And right then the nurse came up with three G&Ts."

The premise of Sally Wainwright's intergenerational saga is based on what actually happened to Wainwright's mother, who was happily reunited with her childhood sweetheart in later life, and it has been praised for avoiding the patronising attitude towards old people that Wainwright says permeates the industry at all levels. "When we started looking at titles and music, a number of people pitched to us," she says. "Apart from Sarah Rhys, who did the titles - and Murray Gold, who does the music - everybody just went, 'Oh, this is about little old people being cute' and everything they pitched was about being little old fuddy-duddies."

  • Last Tango in Halifax continues on BBC1 tomorrow at 9pm

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